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AFNet PII breaches still a concern

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- More than one month after Air Force Space Command's implementation of lock-out procedures for individuals found to have inappropriately transmitted Personally Identifiable Information, PII breaches still remain a significant issue.

While the average number of daily incidences of PII breaches have decreased there is still a lot of work to be done to prevent future PII incidents, said Gen. William L. Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command.

"We've all got to work harder to eliminate PII violations," Shelton said. "In November more than 5,000 individuals were affected by a single PII breach. PII that is not properly protected becomes vulnerable to interception by an adversary. That creates the risk of the information being used to target individual users to gain their credentials and potentially gain access to our networks. From an individual perspective, it can also lead to identity theft. We can't stand the network or the personal consequences, so we must stop PII breaches on the AFNet (Air Force Network)."

During the six month period from May through October the Air Force averaged approximately 3.3 reports affecting 1,935 members per day. Since launching the new policy and process, that average has dropped to approximately 2.7 reports affecting 991 members per day.

"The most common violations we are seeing are people transmitting personnel rosters from .mil to .com addresses and vice versa," said Col. Douglas Coppinger, the 67th Cyberspace Wing vice commander, the wing whose mission encompasses the detection of PII breaches. "While quite often these breaches are not of malicious intent, we need to better educate our Airmen on the protection of this type of information."

One tool available for protecting information is provided by the Software Protection Initiative established by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics in December 2001. The SPI has the mission of marginalizing a threat actor's ability to steal and exploit critical Department of Defense intellectual property found in application software.

Users have multiple tools at their disposal to protect PII if encrypting e-mail is not feasible, but electronic transmission of sensitive PII is operationally required. Users can leverage approved DOD file exchange services through AMRDEC SAFE, file encryption wizards, or simply use Microsoft Office password protection.

"Once personnel understand what information can be sent home and how to protect it, this provides Airmen clear lanes in the road they can follow, and provides commanders the framework to properly address infractions of those set rules," Coppinger said.

Continuing force-wide education on the protection of electronic information is a top priority for AFSPC and those responsible for protecting the AFNet.

"We are working with leaders across the Air Force to educate and address PII breaches," said Maj. Gen. James K. McLaughlin, the 24th Air Force commander. "As the technology we use to protect the Air Force Network improves, we have gained better visibility of information crossing through and leaving the network. As a matter of fact, we already detect 100 percent of all pieces of PII crossing through the AFNet. What we're doing now is making a concerted effort to hold people accountable, helping to ensure all AFNet users are handling this important information properly."

The AFSPC lock-out procedures were put in place based upon AFSPC's responsibility to operate and defend the AFNet and each individual user's responsibilities that comes with access to the network. AFMAN 33-152, User Responsibilities and Guidance for Information Systems, requires special handling for PII data.

AFNet users should contact their unit Privacy Manager as well as refer to Air Force Instruction 33-332, The Air Force Privacy and Civil Liberties Program, for additional information on safeguarding PII.
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